This month’s find is a mediaeval lead ampulla. The one identified here is probably a later example from the mid 15th to the early 16th century. Interestingly, according to an article I read by William Anderson, Lincolnshire tops the national table for finds of ampullae with 95 being recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). During this later period they had become a mass-produced object. They were made in two halves in moulds, normally of lead although some have other impurities such as tin. In common with most of the finds in the East of England, this design is of a shell and would probably have had a pattern or letter engraved into it. However, because lead is a soft metal, the design has long since been worn off.
Most ampullae in Lincolnshire are found in agricultural fields rather than near settlements and the commonly-held theory is that they contained holy water or holy ‘dust’ and that the water was used to bless the fields for a good crop the following year. They were sold by abbeys and priories in order to generate revenue. The abbey would fill the ampulla with holy water, seal it and then sell it to local farmers. They would normally be on some sort of leather strap and it is possible to see on this example that there are two lead loops either side of the ampulla where the leather strap would have been attached. The ampulla would either be worn by the owner for their own personal protection or, as is probably the case here, its contents would be scattered on the fields and then the ampulla discarded.
This particular one was found in Gautby, near the church and it is not entirely fanciful to think that it was probably bought at one of the local priories; Minting, Bardney, Tupholme or Barlings. Sadly, without the inscription, it is not possible to say. However, we can say that in Gautby between about 1450 and 1500, a local farmer wanted to ensure he had good crops. He went to a local abbey (possibly) and bought an ampulla of holy water, carried it back to his farm and spread it over part of his field. Perhaps he prayed whilst doing it. He then threw the bottle on the ground and walked away.
Sadly, we will never know whether it worked or not.